Experiences entering Beijing on the 72-hour Visa-Free Transit

My trip to China was a challenge. I had to schedule my trip to follow the new 72-hour Visa-Free Transit  process; I didn’t have time to go through the normal visa process. I am pleased to report that my visit to Beijing worked out well, but it was more complicated than I thought it would be. I share my notes here for my records and perhaps the benefit of others.

My host gave me 3 weeks to plan my travel, but I was already scheduled for two other overseas trips so I couldn’t put my passport through the normal (or even expedited) visa process. So my host suggested that I travel on the 72-hour Visa-Free Transit visit  process. I had never heard of this and was skeptical (if not a little reluctant).

The 72-hour Visa-Free Transit rules say that you need a travel itinerary where your departure time is less than 72 hours after the time your inbound flight is scheduled to land. AND, you need to be heading to a different country from which you came. I booked a flight from Chicago to Beijing that landed Monday afternoon. Then I booked a return flight to Tokyo to leave Thursday morning. My Tokyo flight had a 3 hour layover for me to connect with a flight back to Chicago.

BTW, there’s lots more rules: you cannot leave Beijing, you have to be from one of the approved countries, and more. Please don’t go by what I say here, go research this yourself.

This worked. But I had to go through several document checks, with each step adding some doubt and uncertainty.

Ticket counter.

When I started the trip, my airline required me to show my China visa at the ticket counter before they would give me a boarding pass. Not surprisingly, everyone in line ahead of me had a visa. When I got to the head of the line, the poor agent had no idea what I was trying to do. He said “… you have to have a visa to get a boarding pass.” So I pulled out a print-out of an FAQ from the Chinese Embassy that explained the 72-hour Visa-Free Transit  policy; I pulled out a TripAdvisor.com posting, and I pulled out a print-out of a travel blogger’s experiences (including photos). I showed all of this to the agent and only a brief 5 minutes later he gave me a boarding pass.

At the departure gate.

I thought that once I got a boarding pass, I was set. But no. At the boarding gate there’s a roped-off line with a sign saying secondary document checks. I was the first in line. I gave them my visa-less passport, my itinerary, and print-outs from several web pages. The first agent I saw, she didn’t know what to do; she took all my papers then said she was calling her supervisor. Well he came, and didn’t know what to do; they both consulted with someone else. They asked me to sit down; they’d get back to me. Well finally a ticket agenda who knew how to read Chinese came to the gate and she knew what to do right away. They stamped my boarding pass and let me on. This was more drama than I wanted, but understandable.

Chinese immigration hall.

72-hoursebeijinggovcn102813After my long 13 hour flight, with some anxiety I got off my plane at Terminal 3 at the Beijing airport. After a short walk I get to the immigration area. Much to my delight there were two lines dedicated to 72-hour Visa-Free Transit visitors. I went to one of the lines and it was closed?! I politely asked and an immigration agent pointed and said “Foreigner.” This meant I should get into one of the 6 or so lines with a big title of foreigner over the agent’s station.

I got into one of the lines. It was long but it moved fast. Clearly everyone in front of me had a visa. Gulp, was my immigration agent going to know what to do? I gave him my passport, my itinerary, and I said “72-hour Visa-Free Transit .” He apparently knew what I was talking about. He called over one of his associates and they directed me to a separate desk where my travel itinerary was checked. The agent took out a special, big-ish stamp, stamped my passport, and let me pass. Overall, very smooth. Yeah!!

Once I got passed immigration, there was a big back-lit poster celebrating the 72 hour transit visa — implying a welcome for all of us visitors entering under the new process. Thanks, I am glad to be here, so it was OK.


Return Trip

I landed in Beijing on a Monday afternoon; I left on a Thursday AM flight. Exiting China at the Beijing airport was very smooth. My passport and boarding pass were briefly checked, stamped and then I went through security, very much, like normal.

I was surprised by the reaction of my host. I got some adventure-traveler bonus points from the him and other members of the local team because I was willing to try the new process, but in retrospect it wasn’t that hard and hopefully my story can help others.



In summary, make sure you have a printed copy of your travel itinerary, and make sure your departure is to a different country from where you came, and make sure your departure time is less than 72-hours from your landing time, and read the FAQs for all the details of the rules.


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